Editor’s note: a public servant wrote this while being paid with your taxes!
The National Broadband Network (NBN) —among the largest infrastructure projects ever undertaken in Australia —will play an increasingly important role in advancing gender equality. Australia’s National Broadband Network holds great potential to empower women towards better health, employment a more flexible work-life balance, greater communication, and many opportunities in education and business.
While the roll-out of the NBN will benefit the lives of the entire nation regardless of gender, some aspects of enhanced, NBN-enabled broadband will be of particular interest to women.
WOMEN AND THE WORKFORCE
It is in the area of work-life balance and access to employment opportunities that the NBN can make a considerable difference.
Women constitute about 70 per cent of the part-time workforce. As of May 2011, there were 2, 419, 200 women working part-time in Australia.
Enabled by the NBN, its high-speed connections and superior videoconferencing capabilities open up many opportunities for women to be freed from the time, cost and stress burden of the daily commute to and from their workplaces, and find employment commensurate with their skills and experience. In our large cities, for people living in outer suburbs, commuting can be as much as four hours a day.
Teleworking will also open up opportunities for women in regional Australia—as businesses go digital, their staff can increasingly work virtually from their home offices, wherever they live. Teleworking also makes employment more accessible for carers, many of whom are women, who may give up paid work because they cannot work flexibly enough to juggle paid work and caring. This is particularly important for many older women without adequate superannuation.
Whether they are caring for a dependent child or a family member with a long-term illness, the NBN will make it easier for carers to work hours around their day-to-day caring responsibilities, while meeting the needs of their employers.
EDUCATION AND TRAINING
The NBN, with its capacity and lightning speed, promises to transform higher education, vocational training and transition from study to work.
Online education makes learning more accessible to Australians, no matter where they live, work or study. This is especially important for those who find it difficult to attend classes because of their family responsibilities, work commitments, medical condition or location. The roll-out of high-speed broadband to schools, TAFEs and universities in Australia, and the capacity to link with students at home, will extend the reach, availability and quality of education services. Students will be able to interact easily with each other and there will be better access to a variety of teachers and presenters.
Women who have not yet developed online skills stand to gain much from Digital Hubs which are being established in 40 of the first communities that benefit from the NBN. These Hubs provide local communities with training in digital literacy skills. They also showcase the applications that will be enhanced by the NBN and how households can take advantage of these opportunities by connecting with it.
SOCIAL INCLUSION— THE DIGITAL DIVIDE
The extraordinary speed and ubiquity of the NBN, and the superiority of interconnected communication it offers, enables women to more effectively organise and lobby for their rights and engage politically, socially and economically.
The NBN has the capacity to provide, for the first time, a faster and wider platform for women to communicate and engage with government and the community sectors: women will have better tools to organise collectively and make their voices heard.
And because the NBN as a national roll-out will ultimately have the capacity to reach every home in Australia, a new world of opportunity will open up for women who are socially disadvantaged.
WOMEN IN BUSINESS
Women who have opened a small or medium-sized business or who have become part of a not-for-profit organisation can receive training and advice from another government initiative, the Digital Enterprise Program. It offers greater understanding of how to maximise the opportunities from greater digital engagement enabled by the NBN.
WOMEN AND BROADBAND—AN INTERNATIONAL PERSPECTIVE
The United Nations Broadband Commission for Digital Development has highlighted the role of broadband in levelling the playing field for women, stating that:
‘ICTs and broadband are key to achieving empowerment and gender equality. They provide an excellent means of opening up opportunities in education and employment, as well as access to information, and have the potential to neutralise much of the discrimination traditionally faced by women.’
Another UN body, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is concluding its three-year campaign this year (2012) to raise awareness worldwide of the role that information and communication technologies can play in empowering women.
The campaign includes major international advocacy events involving partnerships with governments, industry, and other UN agencies, to highlight the potential of technology to transform women’s lives.
It has ranged over career choices and greater access to services such as e-health, e-education, e-commerce, e-banking and many applications and devices designed to address the day-to-day challenges faced by women all over the world.
Australia is providing $3.6m in support of the GSMA mWomen program, an initiative to unite women and mobile technology to advance gender equality and global development. Jointly funded through USAID’s Global Development Alliance by AusAID, USAID, Visa Inc. and the GSM Association, the program aims to halve the mobile phone gender gap by 2014.